Speculation raged about who the perpetrators might be, with many suggesting neo-Nazis as the most likely culprits – until some common criminals were arrested with the sign cut into three pieces. What was not remarked upon was the fact that the museum authorities had erected a replica of the sign immediately after its theft, the one used when the original was being repaired a few years ago. Arbeit Macht Frei is such a symbol of Auschwitz, and more broadly for the Holocaust, that its talismanic power must always be in place – even it is not real. A copy will serve as well.
The real point is that these are lessons that people want to promote for their own contemporary reasons. Such commentators apparently feel no compunction at using the deaths of six million people to bolster their argument.
Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous poem First They Came… is frequently misquoted. The original lists the Nazis as coming first for the Communists, then the Social Democrats, then the trade unionists, then the Jews, then for ‘me’. This is routinely changed to have the Nazis come for the Jews first or, as in the case of the US Holocaust Museum, getting the order right, but leaving out the Communists.
What is really striking is that those who promote the Holocaust as an educational tool have little faith in the durability of the open, liberal society we live in and the decency of ordinary people, expressing instead a willingness to believe that, unless controlled, we are all capable of such evil. It is this attitude, not the possibility of a re-run of events 65 years ago, which is a real and present threat to liberty and tolerance.
The trouble is the author’s conclusion, praising Anne Frank’s insistence that “people are basically good at heart.”
This is (or, in my view, isn’t) an ok thing for a middle class 12 year old girl to believe.
But besides being bad theology (if you’re an orthodox Christian and not Jewish, of course), it seems incredible to me that the infection of “idealism” could be so strong that one could continue to believe such a thing while watching your friends getting dragged to their deaths outside your window. 12 year old or no 12 year old. I was 12 once too. That would NOT have been my reaction.
That has to be the worst lesson one could glean from reading The Diary… Alas, I suspect that line is the biggest take-away for most young readers. With the fabulous results we see all around us.